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President, ministers dispute police report of re-routing due to climate protest

Accounts differ as to whether officials were redirected or "evacuated" from government HQ during a protest by Elokapina.

Elokapinan mielenosoittajia valtioneuvoston edessä.
Elokapina climate protestors outside the Government Palace on Friday. Image: Petteri Bülow / Yle

Top officials have disputed a police account of events surrounding a demonstration by climate protestors outside the Government Palace on Friday.

Members of Elokapina, the Finnish branch of Extinction Rebellion, staged a sit-in outside the building, demanding a chance to discuss their call for a climate emergency with Finance Minister Annika Saarikko (Cen).

In a bulletin released on Saturday evening, police said that security was judged to have deteriorated to such a degree that the president, ministers and other officials were told to leave the building through alternative routes after a meeting of the Council of State.

Niinistö, Andersson and Saarikko deny re-routing

However, President Sauli Niinistö told the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat that he was not directed to follow a different route when leaving the Government Palace.

Education Minister Li Andersson (Left) also said that she had left the building in the same way as always and didn’t "recognise these dramatic descriptions".

"The evacuation, at least for my part, is not true or I didn’t notice it," she wrote in a Saturday-evening tweet.

Saarikko's staff, meanwhile, told the paper Ilta-Sanomat on Saturday night that she too had left the Government Palace on the Aleksanterinkatu side as usual and did not face the protesters.

Elokapina and police disagree on whether access to the building was blocked. According to Detective Chief Inspector Juha-Matti Suominen, it was.

"Passage through at least two doors was blocked by the Elokapina demonstration. One did not dare to [try to] pass through, so Government security personnel directed [officials] elsewhere. It is known that the entry of at least one person into the Government Palace was concretely blocked, even though they had an urgent matter and an agreed meeting," Suominen said.

Police said that 52 people were taken into custody during the demonstration. Four were released as they were minors.

"The remaining 48 were detained, as there was reason to suspect that they would continue to engage in criminal activity," police said late Saturday, adding that they aimed to release all protesters soon.

Preliminary criminal charges include obstruction of a meeting, insubordination against police, and aggravated breach of public peace, but these may change as the investigation progresses.

Elokapina also criticised police for holding protesters for more than 12 hours. According to the Police Act, an "apprehended person may be kept in custody only for as long as the disturbance is likely to recur, but for no longer than 12 hours".

"We act according to the law, and the law provides grounds for detention. There is no problem with this in the matter," Suominen told Yle, adding that the arrests were based on the Coercive Measures Act.

He declined to comment on whether any of the protesters had been remanded.

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